The founders of Caring For A Cure — Massachusetts General Hospital oncology nurses Molly Higgins, RN, Christine Weiand, RN, and Laura White, RN — used to work with nurses in their unit to pool their own money to buy small gifts for their patients: a dinner out for an exhausted young couple at the end of a long treatment or a birthday cake for a hospitalized Mom separated from her family.
The three nurses noticed the impact these relatively small gestures had on their patients, and, in 2011, they established the Caring For A Cure fund. Since then, Molly, Christine, Laura and others have raised more than $2.3 million to provide flexible funding for nurses to act on their natural reflex to go the extra mile and do something personal and special for a patient. This is, they emphasize again and again, a community-driven labor of love that involves everyone, including social workers, patients, families, donors, doctors and nurses. The program has made the expert cancer care provided in the Mass General Cancer Center all the more holistic and personal.
“We’ve approached patients in their darkest hour, and they often say, ‘I’m fine, but could you do something for my wife or my child?’” says Laura. “We’ve sent families to Celtics games, we’ve done Christmas shopping for families, we’ve sent families out for a night’s entertainment … the idea behind the program is to introduce a bit of normalcy when everything else is turned upside down.”
Laura shared the story of one patient’s wife, who had spent many months at his bedside, and the nursing team treated her to a hotel stay before he was discharged so she could enjoy the extra comforts in a hotel setting. “Giving her a break brought relief to both the patient and his wife,” says Laura.
Seeing The Whole Person
“The idea is to see the patient as a whole person who has a full life outside the walls of the hospital,” says Christine. “This makes us more effective in our care. When you have the full picture in mind, you can be more targeted in your approach. The Caring For A Cure fund leaves room for creativity and inspires all of us to do our best work.” The three founders of Caring For A Cure agree that it’s not the amount spent on a patient that matters to a patient and their family, it’s the impact of a small, meaningful gesture that makes the difference.
Molly shares the story of a patient with no financial needs, but who was facing a difficult diagnosis and a long stay in the hospital. Her 14-year-old daughter was at school in another state, unable to visit because of the pandemic visitor policy and her husband could visit only occasionally because they lived so far away. When, finally, the daughter was able to visit on Christmas Day, the team decorated a tree, decked it with lights, decorations and a few wrapped gifts.
“The three of them were together for the first time in months, they were able to have a moment of relief and enjoyment and were so grateful for the simple gesture that brightened up the room and their spirits for the holiday season,” says Molly. “Everyone who passed the room stopped to enjoy the lights and participate in the celebration. Again, the small gesture made a big difference.”
Debbie Burke, RN, DNP, MBA, NEA-BC, senior vice president for patient care and chief nurse at Mass General, shares that oncology nurses develop profound relationships because they treat patients for long periods of time, sometimes years, who are mostly in a struggle for life. She says that Caring For A Cure enables these nurses to have greater impact, greater reach and it gives them extra resources to respond to patients’ needs.
“In one way, the dream would be to have programs like this everywhere in the hospital. In another way, Caring For A Cure is so unique that it’s perfect as it is,” says Debbie. “Maybe the important thing is to offer Laura, Molly and Christine whatever support they need to continue to make this work. If another team of nurses, from Transplant or Surgery, for example, want to try to replicate Caring For A Cure, my first question will be, are you passionate about this? Because passion is the special sauce.”